Thursday, September 06, 2007

Album Reviews

Album Reviews

The following albums were included in the packet for “Best Rock & Alternative Album of the Year 2006” for the 2006 SHAI Music Awards;

That Place - Set Me Free
Drew Brown - Whisper To A Roar
Bobby Wall - The Prayer I Pray
Thousand Foot Krutch - The Art Of Breaking
Manic Drive - Reason For Motion
Q-Town - Breakthrough
Resolute - What Have You Been Waiting For?
Blue Veil - Leap Of Faith
Elektrik Prophet - When The Towers Fall
Seven Devil Fix - Soundtrack to a Place Unseen
Rule Of Nines - Another Space And Time
OWB - Case Closed
Lambs Among Wolves - Great Big God
Jodi Faith - Second Chance
Isaiah’s Answer - Here Am I
Traced Image - Traced Image

I was selected to be a judge for the rock/alternative category, so I diligently set out to listen to the latest and greatest in Canadian Christian rock music. Since modern rock is not a thing which falls easily on my ears, I knew going in that I would hear some things that would grate on my nerves, that would savage my sense of musicality; I expected the audible assaults to come from a different place than they ultimately arrived. But I tried to give an honest, musically discerning, theologically attentive listen to every entry. I asked the following questions of each entry;

Are the instruments well played?
Can the vocals be understood?
Do the words and music say the same thing? Do they match?
Does the band play well together as a band?
Is the song writing creative? Are they well written?
Is the song writing doctrinally true? Is it true to Scripture?
Does the album represent Christ (or Christ’s teaching) well?
Do I want to listen to it again?

I offer up here my reviews of the above albums. Some received more attention than others, because some were better than others. Overall, I think there were 4 albums that made me want to listen again. Out of 16, that isn’t a very good average… I put them down in the order in which I reviewed them, for your edification.


1. Drew Brown - Whisper to a Roar

Overall;
Drew is a smooth musician, with nice melodies. He often seemed a little to breathy for my liking, but was overall quite pleasant to listen to. He has his moments of song writing skill, but needs to be consistently more creative. He should write about a much wider range of stuff.

1. Fear Before The Fall - good song, well written
2. Collide -
3. Whisper To A Roar -
4. We Belong - could be a good radio pop song
5. Give - Why the lame voice when addressing God? A shallow worship song…
6. Dark Hills - easy going, good use of symbolism, catchy, nice counterpoint voices
7. Shine - Too repetitive for my liking…
8. Reach Out - same as above, but a cooler song…
9. Come Back Down - Seems to have an odd view of God… “ Come back down, God, let me show You how I feel”, as if God can’t tell…
10. Deep Water - I like this song
11. This Human Fire - This is a good song. Well crafted, patient, building, well written.

As an album, B+



2. Bobby Wall - The Prayer I Pray

Bobby Wall is a preacher, not an artist. A preacher should have a pulpit, but keep his hands off the guitar. The guitars all sound exactly the same, all the way through. It seems to me that an artist would recognise this and do something about it…

Also, this is the first of a number of entries which did not belong in this category, since it is neither rock nor alternative in it’s orientation.

1. Jesus Loves You Anyway - preachy
2. Dependant - anti-earning-your-salvation song, indirectly preachy
3. Freheit - in German, nice harmonies
4. Jesus - shallow Jesus chant, preachy, “how I love you” in minor tones…
5. The Prayer I Pray - has a bad case of that very narrow evangelical imagination…
6. Halal - no thanks…
7. I Love You - six minutes of song #5s problem.

I did not finish listening to this album, since I had had enough by this point. There was no indication to me that the rest of it would be any better.
For future reference to the reader; when I say “Preachy”, I mean that the singer of the song is telling you what to do, how you should act, how you should believe. He is more concerned about you than he is about himself. This is all right and good when one is expounding the Scriptures from the pulpit, but the guitar is not a pulpit. I have heard it said, and I believe it, that directness belongs to the preacher, subtlety belongs to the artist. If he were an artist he would learn how to express those things from the inside out, to use other words to say the same thing. When I listen to music, I don’t want to be told what to think, say, or do; I want to be inspired. I want to be made to think in fresh ways.

As for “…that very narrow evangelical imagination”, imagine that the only thing you can talk about in song is that Jesus died for you, and won’t you please come and trust Him. If this is the theme of every song on your album I am suggesting that you need a bigger imagination. Now; the need for Jesus is a broad topic, and it can be approached in any number of ways, but it requires an artist to absorb this truth so that he actually can approach it from different ways.



3. Blue Veil - Leap Of Faith

This seems to me to be a decent rock band, who would benefit greatly by having a bigger imagination and a better education.

1. Leap Of Faith - listenable rock, melodic, with a rock vocalist
2. Breathe In - Be careful, O Artist, about putting the first two songs in the same key…
3. Take The Flight - funky chords, progressions like old Keaggy stuff (that’s a GOOD thing!). Preachy.
4. Taking It Hard - piano song
5. Searching - good harmonies
6. Jabez - mostly cool
7. Finally - good rock guitars
8. Shadow Of Your Wings - piano, good quiet song, is it really true that “I will hurt no more”?
9. Lost - preachy
10. Stay - If this is a song to the girlfriend, the lyrics are inappropriate. If it is a song to the wife, is she leaving? I couldn’t tell.
11. Guide My Way -

As an album I give it a C.




4. Elektrik Prophet - When The Towers Fall

This is a thematic album, which is a good thing to shoot for. If he can develop his musicianship he may be onto something. The overall production is pretty low-level. The first 4 songs are Act 1; the Dark. Songs 5-7 are Act 2; The Struggle. Songs 8-11 are Act 3; The Light. Songs 12-14 are Act 4; The Stuff

1. Introlude - creative!
2. Land Of Confusion - a Phil Collins song
3. Come To Your Senses - God is preaching to the lost, but I wish He were a better poet… The song is musically subdued, and is too low for the vocalist. The long, ethereal part in the middle of the song is a good idea, but it could be executed better.
4. When The Towers Fall - creative instrumentation and interesting song writing. The fellow needs to develop his voice, it is the weak link in this song.
5. Unborn Persecution - not very creative, fits thematically with the album.
6. Get Ready - he likes ethereal beginnings J 80s or late 70s techno/funk/disco
7. Looking For A Place - preachy. This song seemed weird to me and I couldn’t get over it.
8. Fall On Me - This song is 6:44 too long…
9. You Found Me - a Mike Stand number. This song switches without warning from first person to third person to second person…
10. Your Love Is The Answer - His lack of poetry in this song is made up for by his ability to put himself inside all the language of redemption. Something about the chorus reminds me of a poor man’s Dire Straits.
11. Bow To The Wind - an “I surrender all” song. Could use some better poetry in the verses. Creative musically. ProTools could have fixed some of the stuff slightly out of time…
12. How Can I Deny - A better poet could fix this song.
13. Another Day In Paradise - another Phil Collins song
14. Kevin’s Song - an instrumental ending.

This album seems to be chiastically arranged. Cool! It was better on the second listen than on the first. Not a lot of preachyness, which seems to be a common failure among these bands.

Overall, a C+







5. Manic Drive - Reason For Motion

Manic Drive was much better on the second listen through. These guys are capable songwriters, and are able to make ugly themes ugly. They are not as consistent at this as they need to be, though, and I would hold up the song that garnered the most airplay, “Luckiest” as exhibit A. It has a much brighter theme than the music lets on.

There was consistently static, fuzz, and skipping in virtually every song, which is annoying until you discover that it was done purposely, to point out that the connection between what God says and what we do is not always clear and open. Clever, but still annoying. Good thematic development in the album.

1. Intro - an old piano recording, fuzzy and crackly
2. Something More - dissonant chord structures… “crying out for something more”. Lyrics and music fit quite well.
3. Luckiest - Dissonant chord structures. “You were meant for me, I am the luckiest”, the vocalist roars so as to wreck his voice. Lyrics and music don’t seem to fit at all. Also, I could understand probably 60% of the lyrics when listening closely, and that is NOT enough.
4. Nebulous - Exhortation that you can’t live in two worlds. Good lyrics! I could understand probably 80% of them without consulting the jacket, and they were creative. Worth listening to again. Fuzz and static at the end, like the others.
5. Memories - starts quiet, grows. These guys have a good sense of melody and harmony, which comes out once in awhile. A good strong statement of faith, demonstrating a true knowledge of God.
6. Middle Of It All - a reasonably quiet song, with an acoustic section in the middle. “Ease my mind, make it clear, cause I’m stranded”. Again with fuzz at the end.
7. Only One - This song is full of dissonance and dropouts. A “woe is me” song, not very pleasant to listen to.
8. Aimlessly - Dissonant and ugly, it matches the words. Singer is crying out to be brought back to repentance.
9. Wasting Away - “and I like it!” A picture of a seriously perverse man, who knows he is in trouble and is going to come to a bad end. He knows he needs to be saved from the sin he loves so dearly.
10. Tragedy - “love’s a tragedy”… a letter written to a lover after having made some serious mistake, I think.
11. Crying - Panned guitars at the start. An ugly song. Very dissonant and strange.
12. God singing “I’m alive, I’m still here” in ugly tones. “Just seek and you’ll know”. Seek for God in the ugliness of life and you will find Him? Perhaps. It ends with a piano fadeout, chiastically!

I was a bit bothered by the vision statement of Whiplash Records on their album cover. It sounded to me too much like “We are great and humble, unlike anyone else, so get with us and get with the program, buddy!” Just self-promotion using a curious mix of religious-speak and revolution, which, if they understood it, they should avoid like the plague.




6. Lambs Among Wolves - Great Big God

I don’t think this album should have been in this category. Maybe a couple songs fit, the rest don’t.

1. You Are Love - This woman’s voice reminds me of somebody I heard on the radio in the 80s, I can’t place them. (“Back on the chain gang” is ringing in my ears…) This song works musically, though it’s understanding of God and his relationship to men is questionable. “They need not nail you there, You would have hung there just for me” . “You ask for nothing in return for love”. Yes He does. He wants everything. Also, the lyricist needs to learn how to speak in one direction and not several at once.
2. Deliver Me - This is a good song for the most part. Again, a choice of words that does not make sense, when the word “restoreth” is used in place of “restore”.
3. In Clouds Of Glory - Not a very good song musically.
4. Time - has a bad case of Last Days Madness
5. I Miss You - God sings a quiet love song… hmmm
6. Your Presence Is All I Need - A personal worship song
7. It’s All About You - This is a decent song theologically, if not poetically.
8. Faith - Wow! A Bible story song! This needs to be done more often.
9. Thank You Lord - A quiet song of consecration, nice.
10. Holy Spirit - I thought for a minute there I was listening to Judy Rogers… Another worship song, quite simple.
11. Rainstorm & Thunder - “Don’t you know we are near the end? So trust in Jesus!” There are better motivations, and they need to be explored by these ladies.
12. Separated - This song is 11 minutes long. Clever lyrics… nothing can separate me from the love of God, I am separated by the love of God.

It was hard to like this album on first pass, easier on the second. They seem to have a heart towards God, and God always honors that. The song writing needs to be more refined, it has many rough edges. I was pleased to discover that these girls interact with Bible content in their songs. One would wish that this trait were not a rarity among Christian artists, but unfortunately it is. Good for them!



7. Jodi Faith - Second Chance

No lyrics in the jacket, and the girl on the front certainly doesn’t LOOK like she should be in rock/alternative, but here she is. I plugged it in, and I got thru 4 songs when the thought occurred to me that this may well be the worst album I have ever heard, and I have heard many. Can you spell “Cheesy”?
I could not bear to go on listening. The folks who have encouraged this girl to do music need to be rebuked strongly.
Songwriting, singing, and theology lessons are in order for everyone involved in this project. If Jodi gets a “Third Chance”, which could happen in this strange world of ours, she really needs them all.

And here I was expecting to have my song writing, singing, and theology sensibilities assaulted by some screaming teenager with feed-backing guitars…




8. Isaiah’s Answer - Here Am I

1. Your Beauty - a worship song, not very well written
2. Lord Of Everything - another worship song, also not very well written.
3. Here Am I - sort of Isaiah, but needs a better musical imagination and to stop lapsing into the singers thoughts. If it’s Isaiah, I’d rather hear from Isaiah.
4. Holy Presence - see number two above…
5. Other Than We - This song was cool. It used a different sort of rhythm (9/8) and had a nice melody. A decently written song.
6. If Only - The guitarist is not very proficient. There are several good musical ideas, but the song is not very well composed.
7. Folly - More memorable than some of the others, but the lead guitarist didn’t help the cause.
8. All Around Me - I find it hard to stand this breathy “I-want-to-be-a-star vocal styling to be mentioned in the same sentence as the word “worship”. It screams of falsity.
9. Dear Father - simplistic lyrics, this songwriter needs a much bigger imagination.
10. Come Down - The last 4 songs have been the same acoustic rhythm. Break it up, boys, and learn some new rhythms. This song is a decent one considered by itself.
11. Satisfied - I thought it was going to be a communion song, but I was disappointed to find that the bread and wine were only “spiritual”. Faulty religion, but very common indeed. Repetitive.
12. Call To Worship - I’m glad these guys are worshipping the Lord, but I don’t think I could stand to be in their presence if they are offering this as a call to worship. God calls us to worship, these fellows call us to a rockin’ good time. Please…

I found that a number of the bands whose albums are up for consideration in this rock/alternative category are really “worship bands” in disguise. If you are going to be a rock band, be one. Start using your music for it’s God-designed purpose, which is to glorify His Name, and use it in the place for which it was made; out in the world. Stop thinking that it needs to take place in a worship service. You are only hurting the church in the long run by making her music sound like everything else you listen to. Make Church music sound Churchly.



9. OWB - Case Closed

1. Case Closed - A trial. Is he a Christian or not? Is there enough evidence? Kind of corny…
2. Truth - used the word “there’s” about fifty times. The songwriter needs MUCH more creativity. The timing changes worked. Very preachy.
3. I Surrender - Use your imagination, O songwriter! Religious cliché city… A great long interlude to lengthen an already-too-long song. This guy needs to sing more rock stuff that makes use of his soaring vocals.
4. Come Follow Me - Good that he went to the Scriptures, bad that he doesn’t have a poetic bone in his body. “If you’re having doubts, you’re not worthy to answer his call…” This is false doctrine, made to discourage those weak in faith.

I did not finish listening to this trash, and I do not intend to do so. There are enough bad preachers in the world who browbeat the people of God, and woe is us when they pick up instruments…




10. Q-Town - Breakthrough

1. Smile On Your Face - Happy-clappy reggae, don’t worry, be happy. Jesus loves you and everybody, blah, blah, blah. Preachy.
2. Your Looking At Me - A happy-clappy call to compassion. Preachy.
3. I’m So Happy - Deliberately stupid, because the authors think their campers are stupid, which they probably are if they sing along… Creative, but insulting to the intelligence… happily insulted.
4. Do You Wanna - Somebody loves me, doot do doot do doot… could be that girl, could be Jesus, who knows…
5. Got This Life - happy-clappy thanks for being alive
6. World That You Made - happy-clappy thanks for creation
7. Light Of The World - the best song so far… weird telephone reverb on voices, I don’t know why.
8. Yeah Yeah Yeah - sort of a catchy title, eh? The first words are at 53 seconds, and they are as stupid as can be.
9. Special - “all of us are oh, so special”. Didn’t these guys pay attention when they were watching the Incredibles? When everybody is special, then nobody is. This is a stupid song.
10. Come Change My Life -
11. Breakthrough -

This is a camp band from Q-Town camp in B.C. It seems to me that these folks seriously lack Christian vision, or they wouldn’t be foisting such schlock on their campers. Open your bibles, O songwriters!




11. Resolute - What Have You Been Waiting For?

1. Story For Two - not a very good singer, creative guitars and bass.
2. Lost And Found - I’m not sure if this man has ever played in front of anyone. This song is full of timing changes and tempo changes, which is very difficult to accomplish effectively live.
3. Higher Place - the fellow is a decent songwriter.
4. Be The One - Blah blah blah…
5. Away From You - A straight forward rock and roll song which needs a better title. This one doesn’t capture the mood or essence of the song.
6. Tale Of E Minor - musicating on Em. No Keaggy here…
7. Scars - some better song writing here. The use of high notes to emphasize the high points in the lyrics is lacking, however.
8. Confessions - an eleven-minute epic, which includes 2:11 of dead space in the middle. The guitarist needs to be more proficient.
They left the studio tape running. When they came back and started singing their fine little muzak piece at the end, it became clear to me that these guys are missing their calling. They are WAY better when they are not preaching or aching.

This was not an album that compelled me to listen again, except for the tail end of the last song. Do more muzak, boys!




12. Rule Of Nines - Another Space And Time

This is another album that does not belong in this category on two levels; it is more country than anything else, and it is only nominally Christian. Decent band, though.

1. Coming Home - A very country entry, with a good vocalist and great harmonies. A decent song.
2. Nexus - a classical guitar lead over a strange-timing bass riff and one violin with strings, leading into…
3. Another Space And Time - song writing and lyrics done fairly well, could have been more imaginative musically.
4. Bobby Song - a beautiful country song. A tear-jerker, but Daddy came back…
5. Forever You And I - a creative start with drums and vocals. “I’ll always be there” sort of song, nice sax solo, powerful vocal lead. A pop love song.
6. Listen - counsel to a friend to listen to his wife. Good counsel, but kind of preachy.
7. It’s Time To Dance - This did not seem like a very good song to me.
8. Stand - A preachy exhortation to stop doing nothing.
9. I Won’t Let You Down - another pop love song. See number 5.
10. Reprise… more of the same…
11. Lost In Silence - “I don’t want to live if all I have to give is lost in silence”
12. The Calling - a reprise of number 11...
13. California - “Going to California”… whoopee!


The musicians on this album are generally good, especially the vocalist. It sort of lacks anything distinctly Christian, and just seems to be living in a Christian ethos. No sense of the depth of faith, pretty shallow.






13. Seven Devil Fix - Soundtrack To A Place Unseen

First big no-no; there are no lyrics in the CD jacket, and of all the albums in this lot that needed them it was this entry.

1. Welcome To The Show - Big rock and roll. It seems to be an exhortation to rid concert-goers of inhibitions. Wrong exhortation. Sounds to me like a recipe for how to fix yourself up with seven devils… Guitarist tries to be Hendrix.
2. Brighter - “Something’s brighter than the noonday sun”. It is hard to understand their lyrics. The musicians seem to be quite capable, but lacking musical sense. There is a big scream at the end.
3. Temperance - Is this a wedding song?!? These fellows do not seem to understand that music has meaning, and that not every sort of music is appropriate for every sort of occasion. A screaming noisy wedding song is not appropriate, even if your friends think that’s what they want.
4. Magi - It is hard to understand the words, even in the earphones. The music sounded fine, I think, but if the vocals are not higher in the mix so that they can be heard, the singer may as well shut up. This is supposed to be an adaptation of a Bible story, but how can we tell?
5. Ghostwood - Why the whispering? I can’t hear you when you are singing out loud…”A feeling O so wrong is haunting me” “Haunted by perfection”… If I could hear the words I might be compelled to probe deeper into the meaning of the song.
6. Seed - This song is musically constructed, but again, it is hard to hear the lyrics.
7. Tremendum -
8. The Burden -
9. Song on my Radio -
10. Tent Meeting -

I tried harder to hear carefully with this album than with any of the others, but I was not rewarded accordingly. I am unable to hear what is being sung at least half the time. This is a BIG problem for a band in ANY Christian music category. Don’t set yourself out as a Christian band and then start mumbling. I figure that if you have words in a song, they probably should be heard, and if not heard, removed.
I cannot recommend this album for this reason.


14. That Place - Set Me Free

1. Take Me Back -
2. My Heart Burns - A worship song, cf Ps.84:1 Heart burn for Jesus! Why the telephone reverb? Not too bad…
3. I Am Found - first singing to someone, then to God, without letting the hearer know of the impending switch… Reverb is obscuring the words.
4. Free - cool song, more folk than rock. It is too long, though.
5. The River - There was lots of opportunity to be more creative in the lyrics. Poetic imagination needs to develop.
6. Learning To Fly - cliché city…
7. Colourful - “Free Falling” lick, not sure what it means
8. This Crown - a worship tune, blasé
9. Lend Me Your Hope - some creativity, could be greater
10. 6000 Years - static weird guitars and vocals to start. Sort of a Bob Dylan meets Henry Morris thing. A much more creative song than the others. Bonus song pretty but preachy.

Seemed pretty ho-hum to me as an album, and did not inspire me to listen again.




15. Thousand Foot Krutch - The Art Of Breaking

This is probably the heaviest music band of the bunch, but light years ahead of the rest.

1. Absolute - This guy is a songwriter. Good song construction, I can hear almost all the words. I get the point, and it is a good one.
2. Slow Bleed - verses not very musical. It has a fast vocal, but it can be understood. Music fits the words. Interesting music and timing changes.
3. The Art Of Breaking - This is a good band, they work together really well.
4. Stranger - Music is very fitting. Good band! And good vocalist too.
5. Hurt - a heavy rock song in three quarter time, how about that! Very different from the other songs, with a cool lead vocal.
6. Hand Grenade - An angry song, a person ready to explode. Chaos music, but orchestrated chaos with a driving beat.
7. Move - This fellow has a very emotive voice. The songwriter knows how to mix the music of chaos and order. There are often strong melodies in the midst of weird chords.
8. Hit The Floor -
9. Go - does not match music and message.
10. Make Me A Believer -
11. Breathe You In - starts mellow, in three quarter time. A call for Gods presence.


Overall, a well-made album. Craftsmen at work.




16. Traced Image - Traced Image

1. Introduction - an electronic thing for a few seconds
2. All Is Vanity - Not too pretty, but it does what a rock song should do.
3. Direction - This is a well-written song.
4. Exaltation - I counted it as being in 4/4 time and tried to discern how the lyrics were fitting it (in the first section of the song) but I could not do it. It made no sense to me.
5. Be Like Jesus - a good quiet piano song that builds, with some cool chords in the chorus. This was a decent song.
6. Glory - needs a better lyrical and musical imagination
7. For You - Also short on imagination in every important way.
8. Falter - an instrumental based on Psalm 69. I wonder how you do that…
9. Searching - I think there are other instruments in here but the guitars keep masking them. This song is droning in my ears… time to move on.
10. Loss Of Touch - Lyrically I could not make head nor tail of this song. Loss of touch is an accurate description…
11. Worthy Is Your Name - I wonder if the word “holy” means anything more if you stretch it way out a whole bunch of times. Or “Name”, or “worthy”. I think not. You could have effectively sung the entire message of this song in less than 20 seconds, but it took you 4:48. I think you could use your time more effectively, and at the same time to discontinue stunting the spiritual growth of those who regard this as worship music. Like any good editor, just say no to songs like this.
12. Commotion - It is good to be against the troubles raised by the “commotion” of jealousy, slander, and back-biting, but commotion is raised in many ways, and this kind of music in the worship service has been raising this kind of commotion for years now. If you want to stop the commotion by entering the place of worship, a very effective way is to kick the rock band out.

This album started out as a rock effort, but it devalued into a “worship” effort after about three songs and stayed there the whole rest of the way. I say “devalued” because the destination for this rock music wound up in the sanctuary again when it should be out there confronting the world.


--------------------------------------------------------------------


If I could plead with Canadian songwriters, I would ask them to please start making music for the church that is full of Scripture and that sounds completely distinct from what you hear on the radio. The Church is the great alternative to the kingdoms of this world, and she needs her own language, her own prayers, her own songs. She needs to have different songs, and better songs.
And if you are a rock band who is trying to engage the world, you need to become better poets. And that means learning the Scriptures inside out, internalizing it, then learning how to say things from God in such a way that people will listen to you. Start seeing things thru different eyes than your neighbor does. Then perhaps you will be able to show him things that he has seen a million times in a new light, the light of Christ.

5 comments:

Valerie (Kyriosity) said...

Oooh...would you do my songs next? There are only four with recordings. You wouldn't have to bother to tell me that my playing is lame and my singing is weak...I already know that...but I'd love some feedback on the songs themselves. (-:

Jamie said...

I went and read your lyrics before commenting, and I don't think that you suffer from these folks songwriting ailments, Valerie. I'll try to listen to them soon and tell you what I think.

And here I thought I would scare folks off with my caustic reviews...

Valerie (Kyriosity) said...

Thanks!

Valerie (Kyriosity) said...

Oh...and...uh...I added three new recordings since I left my first comment. Sorry! d-:

Jamie said...

Valerie, I'll post my reviews of the first three songs shortly. I have them written already.